Multiple principals, multiple problems: Implications for effective governance and a research agenda for joint service delivery

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
AuthorBart Voorn,Marieke Genugten,Sandra Thiel
Multiple principals, multiple problems: Implications
for effective governance and a research agenda
for joint service delivery
Bart Voorn
| Marieke van Genugten
| Sandra van Thiel
Institute for Management Research, Radboud
University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Department of Public Administration,
Radboud University, Nijmegen, The
Bart Voorn, Institute for Management
Research, Radboud University, Postbus 9018,
Nijmegen 6500 HK, The Netherlands.
The multiple principal problem refers to multiple collective action
problems that organizations face when they must balance (compet-
ing) interests of multiple stakeholders under joint service delivery.
It negatively affects different types of organization, yet we know
little about how organizations (can) mitigate it. We expand a frame-
work based on principalagent theory, review the literature, and
consider implications for effective governance of joint service
delivery in the public sector. We observe that joint service delivery
can lead to free-riding and duplication in monitoring, lobbying by
principals, and increased autonomy for agents, leading to ineffi-
ciency. We build a research agenda and tentatively suggest, based
on the literature, that an interface approach, where an elected uni-
tary actor is placed in a middle tier between politics and service
delivery, might best mitigate the multiple principal problem, which
is currently not dealt with effectively in public management.
Is joint service delivery beneficial for public sector organizations? We know from the literature on inter-municipal
cooperation that knowledge sharing and scale economies frequently make joint service delivery efficient (Hulst et al.
2009; Bel et al. 2014; Bel and Warner 2015; Silvestre et al. 2017; Voorn et al. 2017). However, joint service delivery
is also prone to failure, due to multiple possible collective action problems (Feiock 2009, 2013). For inter-municipal
service delivery, Garrone et al. (2013) find that conflict over objectives can trickle down to insufficient or incoherent
directives to boards; Sørensen (2007) finds insufficient monitoring due to free-riding. We observe similar inefficien-
cies for parliaments and agencies (McCubbins et al. 1987; Moe 1987; Wood and Waterman 1991; Hammond and
Knott 1996; Koppell 2005; Dehousse 2008; Schillemans and Bovens 2015), publicprivate partnerships (Bognetti
Received: 8 May 2018 Revised: 30 December 2018 Accepted: 11 January 2019
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12587
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© 2019 The Authors. Public Administration published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Public Administration. 2019;97:671685. 671

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